STEPHANIE LAKE

in my own words...

Stephanie LakeNo matter what's happened in my life, I've always had my mother.  My father, on the other hand...  Well, let me just say that I do know my father loved me and always wanted what was best for me.  At least in the beginning.  I remember when I was very little, maybe three or four, and I would sit on his lap while he smoked a cigar.  He would read me Mother Goose stories and fairy tales about princesses and evil queens before putting me to bed.  He always said" life can be like a fairy tale, you've just got to help it along a little."  I never understood what he meant.  Did he mean that if I worked hard enough, I could be like one of those princesses who got to go to the ball and dance with Prince Charming?  What kind of work did I have to do, anyway?

Daddy was always around when I was little.  He didn't have a job very often, so Momma would always be the one out making sure we had food on the table and clothes on our backs.  One month, we were late with the rent and she was so scared that we were gonna be thrown out on the street.  Daddy kept telling her that she worried too much and that everything was gonna be okay.  Gee, he was such a dreamer.  He was always telling us how he was gonna strike it rich and buy us a big house with a maid and gardeners and nice clothes.  It seemed like every week he was coming home with some big announcement about how he had stumbled on the perfect idea to make us rich.  He never actually made any money from these big ideas, but  once he managed to get enough to take me to the amusement park one summer.  I had always wanted to go and ride a roller coaster.  Daddy was right there to hold my hand and we screamed our lungs out during the deep falls.

Although Daddy and I were very close, I never seemed to see much of Momma.  She was always working late trying to support us.  Sometimes, we hardly had any money at all, but then other times, Momma seemed to have tons of it.  She'd breeze into the room with loads of shopping bags full of new dresses for both of us and we'd spend hours together in front of the mirror trying them on and posing like we were models or socialites.  I had a good childhood.  Then everything changed.

I don't remember exactly when it happened, but Daddy gradually stopped spending so much time at home with me.  He always said that he was working on ways to make us better off.  Momma and Daddy fought a lot, too.  Once, they got into a really bad fight and he hit her.  I was so scared for her; I'd never seen him act like that before.  For the first time in my life, I didn't like him very much.  I still loved him, though.  He was my Daddy after all.  Then, one day, these men started to come by.  The would say really mean and nasty things to us about how we would regret double crossing them and that they'd get what was theirs.  I didn't know what they meant, but I knew enough to be scared.  One time, the men came looking for Daddy and he wasn't home.  They started breaking things and tearing everything up.  Oh, how I screamed and cried when they smashed my favorite doll house.  Momma had given it to me for one of my birthdays and I loved it more than anything I owned.  Now it was ruined!  After that, Daddy started spending more and more time away.  I  could tell he had changed.  It seemed like he wouldn't hold me any more and he wouldn't tell me any more stories.  I can still remember the last time I saw him.

He had just shown up, out of the blue.  I could tell that Momma wasn't really excited to have him home, but she didn't say anything.  He had an armload of presents for both me and Momma.  New dresses and jewelry!  Momma asked him were he got the stuff, but he wouldn't tell her.  While I tried on my new clothes, I could hear them fighting.  Momma told him he was gonna bring those men back.  They were gonna start harassing us again.  He told her that she was worrying too much and he had everything under control.  Right before he left, he hugged and kissed me and told me how much he loved me and he'd see me really soon.  I never saw him again.

After what seemed like a forever of waiting for him, Momma told me one day that Daddy was dead.  She never told me how she knew or how it happened, but I suspected that it had something to do with those men.  I cried myself to sleep that night.  I wanted my Daddy back.  I wanted him to tell me stories about princesses again.  I wanted him to hold me and tell me all about his dreams and his plans.

Momma and I moved to Albanyville not long after that.  She said that we needed to start over with a new life.  It's been wonderful here.  I became the most popular girl in school.  Momma was always amused at how many boys kept coming by to take me out to dances and parties.  It was always like I was a princess getting ready to go to a ball.  My cousin Sara is living with us now, too.  We spend a lot of time together talking about boys and what we're gonna wear when we get married.  I want to wear a big fancy dress with a train and a veil.  I want to look just like a princess in a fairy tale.  Now I've got to find the right Prince Charming!  I've got faith that I'll find him and he'll make my life perfect.  Like Daddy said, fairy tales and dreams can come true.  You've just got to help them along a little.

March, 1935